July 24, 2020 10.03 a.m.
COVID-19 : a risk factor related to the Neanderthal ?
A genetic sequence inherited from Neanderthals could increase the risk of severe reactions to the COVID-19, according to a new study.
While the scientific community is in search of the reason why some people react more strongly than others to the disease, this study prépubliée on July 3, has identified a track unexpectedly on chromosome three : a genetic sequence which is derived from Neanderthals. Our ancestors would have inherited by interbreeding between the two species, there are over 60 000 years.
Researchers do not know why this part of our DNA could expose some people to greater risks, but they find that this part of the chromosome is “strongly associated” with a greater number of people having a severe reaction to the virus.
The gene would be more present in Asia, where 30% of the population would be a carrier. In Bangladesh, this percentage rises to 63 %, the highest rate known.
In an interview with the New York Times, the researchers explain that they do not know why this gene is still present today. They assume that this genetic sequence could have increased the immune response of the populations of south Asia, giving them a protection against some viruses of the time.
Indeed, today, several other factors are more clearly responsible for the fragility of some populations, such as age, chronic diseases, and social inequalities. But this gene may, tens of thousands of years later, playing also a role in this pandemic.
The researchers, however, indicated that this remains for the moment in the realm of speculation ; more research will need to be performed to better understand the importance of this discovery. But this is not the first time that the genes inherited from Neanderthals are observed, and several do not have a real use — or, at least, no use that we have been able to identify.